According to an informal poll, several factors influence teachers’ choices: their age, their students’ age and climate.
For those who teach lower grades, the Gap and Express are favorite destinations since slacks with a trendy top appears to be the uniform.
“Usually my pants are functional while my tops are more stylish,” admits second grade teacher Lois Fitzgerald of Orlando, Florida. “But I also invest in good quality shoes. Footwear is so important. If you don’t have comfortable shoes, you’re going to be miserable because you’re on your feet all day.”
Unlike student dress codes, which can inspire groans of frustration at the outlawing of the flip-flops, tank tops and miniskirts that monopolize teen departments, teacher dress codes often are aimed at setting an example for their students and gaining respect. Many schools have rules that include no spaghetti straps, no flip-flops and no overly revealing clothes for teachers.
“It depends on the school district, but when I taught in Texas, tattoos had to be hidden under clothing or a bandage,“ notes Sue Harrell who currently teaches third grade in Plant City, Florida.
Harrell learned early in her career that teaching elementary school can be hazardous to her wardrobe. A math and science teacher, Harrell spends a lot of time outdoors – doing experiments and observing nature – with her students.
“I’ve learned not to spend too much on my work wardrobe,” Harrell says. “If you care about it, it will get ruined.”
Those who teach older grade levels report that Ann Taylor and Banana Republic provide business casual looks that appear polished and professional.
“I am 28 and I look young, but I try to stand apart from my students,” says Carly Jenkins, who teaches ninth grade in Jacksonville. “It’s very important to maintain that distance. I am not their friend, I am their teacher.”
That is a distinction every parent can appreciate.